The journey of Coach Derick “Ringo” Adamson has fittingly been a marathon up until this point. It has had many highs and lows, but through it all, Adamson has remained steadfast in his quest to find himself and his place in this world.
Adamson was born on March 24, 1958, in a quaint Jamaican parish called St. Mary. His parents worked to support his family with his father being a land surveyor and his mother having a job in Kingston that would open the door to the United States for the Adamson family.
“The parish is known for cultivated plantations,” Adamson said. “We grew sugar cane, bananas, oranges and jackfruit. We were farmers who lived off the land. Even though others would consider us poor with money, I was rich with the stuff around me nature-wise.”
Unfortunately, he was unable to attend school in Jamaica since he lacked sufficient funds to pay the school fee. However, this would be unable to dull his naturally sharp wit and intellect, especially out in nature.
“We used to eat all these melons as a source of hydration,” Adamson said. “When we would throw the melon peels the birds there wouldn’t move. So then, I thought to tie a melon around my head and get into the river. I swam up under them and was able to capture them without being noticed. That’s the kind of stuff you learn out with nature.”
Eventually, Adamson had to leave Jamaica to travel to the United States with his mother, whose job in Kingston led to a transfer to the U.S. in 1975. This transition proved to be rather difficult, testing his spirits on many occasions.
“In the United States, I used those same mindsets and taught myself how to survive,” Adamson said. “I knew a harsh life and knew how to live it. Getting to know the customs was the toughest challenge, especially learning the certain spellings of words. I knew British English at the time, so it was definitely difficult to learn.”
School proved to be equally difficult. Having never stepped foot in a classroom until the age of 16, he had a lot of ground to make up. Like in many of his races, he was able to do so with hard-work and dedication.
“I learned how to read in school,” Adamson said. “I remember going every day with myself and a blind boy. The teacher would come in with a bluebook to write down our assignments. Eventually, I knew how to read braille thanks to my classmate. We got to be good friends back then.”
Growing up in Verona, NJ, the majority of residents were of Italian and Jewish descent, making Adamson certainly stand out in the crowd. Luckily, he was treated as their equal and was never treated poorly. Unfortunately, this would not be the case in Montclair where he encountered racism for the first time.
“I started seeing some of the name calling and I viewed it as ignorance,” Adamson remembered. “My background helped to deal with all of it. If someone is mean-spirited, that’s their disease. I always do the opposite to stop the disease. I try to always be kind and respectful to others.”
Despite this daily struggle, Adamson found great solace in the world of track and field, excelling after taking his very first step in a race. How it all happened was something that he will never forget.
“I was in gym class back in Montclair for high school. We used to run to where we would play our games, and whoever got their first got to be the captain,” Adamson said. “It was about 800 meters away, and I was lucky if I even got picked last, so I definitely wanted to get there first. When I got there before the coach did, he wanted me to go out for cross-country.”
While hesitant at first, Adamson decided to participate in his first three-mile race with his friend. Having never practiced running before, he won with a stunning time of 16 minutes and 32 seconds. The track and field coach would practically beg him to come to practice, and he would have to get creative with his excuses to not go.
“One day, I wanted to go home and watch a western instead of going to practice,” Adamson said. “It was called ‘Ringo and the Golden Pistol,’ and it was really cool. Ringo was the kind of guy I wanted to be, and when the kids in school found out about my excuse, the nickname Ringo stuck for life.”
From there, Ringo was on the run, crushing the field in high school and at Glassboro State College, earning him a spot in the 1984 and 1988 Summer Olympics for his home country of Jamaica.
Back at home, he would go on to win the 1984 Philadelphia Marathon, with a time of 2:16:39, which remains a Jamaican national record to this day. Looking back, he could not be happier with the way things turned out.
“Running was something that gave me an opportunity to find myself,” Adamson said. “It made me feel like I was worth something. That’s what I try to tell my girls to this day. Running is gonna lead you to something great, whether it be on or off the track.”
Through it all, Coach Derick Adamson remained thankful for everything he had. From his humble beginnings at St. Mary in Jamaica to the larger than life stage of the Olympics, Adamson remained vigilant in his efforts and would be rewarded with national and international acclaim.
He felt especially thankful for his family for supporting him through the years, for Coach Fritz inspiring him to attend Glassboro State College and for his English teacher, Ms. Upton, for encouraging him to embrace being different. These people, and many others, helped turn Ringo into a track star.
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